We ❤ Retro Media: Vinyl, VHS, Tapes & Film (Video)

Lisa says, "We just released our newest episode of PBS Off Book: 'We ❤ Retro Media: Vinyl, VHS, Tapes & Film.' This was one of my favorite episodes to work on."

We live in a digital world that gives us all the media we could possibly dream of at the click of a mouse, yet many people miss the old school physical formats from our past. Listening to vinyl and cassettes allows us to connect with music in a different way than MP3s. VHS and 8mm create visual aesthetics and atmospheres that are difficult to replicate in digital video. And the surprises inherent to analog instant photography help embed an organic quality to the recording of our memories. The challenges these retro formats present to capturing and experiencing media actually enhance our appreciation for the sound or image, making the art we love a bit more intimate, and real.


  1. I work at a production facility that is involved in a large amount of restoration and transcoding of old media. As someone who works with all of the formats listed above (and then some) on a daily basis I’d like to go on the record as saying they suck.

    From a technical and physical perspective they are universally awful. The unique “visual aesthetics and atmospheres” are almost entirely the result of unavoidable physical damage and degradation.

    We have indeed lost something by moving away from these formats. We have lost having to deal with flaking oxide on tapes and stripped sprocket holes on film and a dozen different media types that were never quite to universal spec and only play back properly on a particular model from a particular manufacturer which hasn’t been produced in 20 years.

    1. 16mm or 8mm film doesn’t get stripped sprockets any more than a hard drive fucks up irretrievably losing all your mp4’s, or a USB stick gets destroyed in the wash. both are about maintaining technology (cleaning a projector, backing up your files) in different ways. vinyl isn’t awful, it just happens to be a physical object, to which slightly different
      rules of ownership and care apply. as for playback problems, i need at least two media players to play back all the different file types that litter digital media at present, and there will no doubt be as much obsolete digital media in the future as there is analogue media now.

    2. As opposed to, say, the ease of transcribing a 20 year-old OS 7 .sfil sound file?  Or a DRM protected file with defunct license servers from a bankrupt company?

  2. Ryan’s right about tapes when he points out that some of them: “only play back properly on a particular model from a particular manufacturer which hasn’t been produced in 20 years.” As an Audio Archivist, I know all about that. Don’t even get me started on Voicewriter discs and their ludicrous 23 RPM speed (bah!) and the fact that all that magnetic media is dooooomed.

    However, I still love the anachronistic formats, even if it’s mostly for aesthetic/nostalgic reasons.


    1. ahh – do you have any tefifon recordings? those things were amazing. much lighter and more hi-fi than early tape machine..

    2. You want extra fun? Have a client come in with a film where the audio was recorded separately to tape. Both of which have stretched/shrunk and, particularly for the audio, no one is quite sure what the original record speed was.

      Oh, and half the sprocket holes are missing because one of the gears in the client’s father’s projector occasionally got sticky. And because they live in a really dry climate the oxide on the tape is starting to come off like dandruff.

      Sure we can sync them up and make it all look/sound great. Keep us busy for a week and they are definitely paying by the hour.

  3. Did Ryan Martin just claim that home mastering cassettes is cheaper than burning off CDRs? Also “nitch” O_o ?

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